Argentina may be still seeking a first victory as they embark on their third Rugby Championship campaign, but the Pumas have not been embarrassed among the exalted company of the southern hemisphere's premier competion and have even managed to force a draw - 16-16 at home to South Africa in Mendoza in 2012.

They have yet to record a Test win this year, losing a home series 2-0 to the RBS 6 Nations champions Ireland as well as a defeat at home by Scotland in June. They are, however, optimistic about this championship - they open against South Africa in Pretoria on Saturday - even if they realise it is arguably an even bigger challenge than in the previous two years.

Daniel Hourcade, their coach, has now had almost a year in the position to forge his own team after inheriting Santiago Phelan's side last November on the cusp of their tour of Europe.

Loading article content

Phelan's Pumas lost all six Tests in the Championship last year, starting off with a 73-13 mauling by the Springboks in the equivalent opening fixture to this Saturday's clash at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria.

Hourcade and his new captain Agustin Creevy have South African experience that should stand them in good stead as they try to set a tone for the team with a good start in the first two matches against the Springboks.

The Pampas XV, a feeder side previously coached by Hourcade, played in South Africa's third-tier Vodacom Cup from 2010 to 2013, winning it in 2011 and in the process blooding a large number of the current generation of Argentina players.

Several more were promoted after the Pampas won the Pacific Rugby Cup in Australia early in the year with a squad made up entirely of home-based players. Argentina are gradually depending less and less on players who have made their careers in Europe and the exiles make up a mere third of the squad this year.

About a dozen of Hourcade's Championship squad played the Vodacom Cup, including hooker Creevy and the two players vying for the No.9 jersey, Martin Landajo and Tomas Cubelli. There is no magic from ­Nicolas Sanchez at fly-half as there often was with Juan Martin Hernandez but there is solid playmaking and sound place kicking.

Argentina's third place at the 2007 World Cup in France remains their greatest achievement but only five members of that squad survive. Among the backs, Hernandez and wing Horacio Agulla remain. Back-row forwards Juan Fernandez Lobbe and Juan Manuel Leguizamon, both former Pumas captains, and loosehead prop Marcos Ayerza bring experience to the pack.

Hourcade has set his sights on building a side for next year's World Cup in England, a realistic timeframe when he took charge, and he is confident his team are well set for the Championship. "I think we're well prepared, good in our heads. I have a lot of confidence in the team," Hourcade said during the build-up. That confidence extends to avoiding a similar fate to the nine-try mauling they suffered at the hands of the Springboks in last season's opener - the single occasion in the Rugby Championship when they were truly outclassed.

South Africa yesterday named the inexperienced fly-half Handre Pollard ahead of long-standing incumbent Morne Steyn for Saturday's match. The 20-year-old, who just two months ago was captaining South Africa's under-20 team at the Junior World Championship, will win a second cap, with Steyn, South Africa's most capped flyhalf with 56 appearances, on the bench. The centre Damian de Allende will win his first cap while the captain Jean de Villiers and the prop Tendai Mtawarira were chosen despite having been out of action for long spells because of injury.

Meanwhile, New Zealand's fit-again Conrad Smith has returned at centre while Wyatt Crockett has replaced the injured Tony Woodcock at loosehead prop for the All Blacks' opening match against Australia in Sydney, the only changes from the team who started against England in their last Test.


South Africa (v Argentina Rugby Championship, Pretoria, Saturday) W le Roux; C Hendricks, D de Allende, J de Villiers, B Habana; H Pollard, R Pienaar; T Mtawarira, B du Plessis, J du Plessis, B Botha, L de Jager, F Louw, W Alberts, D Vermeulen.

Subs: A Strauss, T Nyakane, F Malherbe, E Etzebeth, M Coetzee, F Hougaard, M Steyn, J Serfontein

New Zealand (v Australia, Sydney, Saturday) B Smith; C Jane, C Smith, M Nonu, J Savea; A Cruden, A Smith; W Crockett, D Coles, O Franks, B Retallick, B Retallick, S Whitelock, J Kaino, T McCaw, K Read

Subs: K Mealamu, B Franks, J Moody, S Luatua, S Cane, T J Perenara, B Barrett, M Fekitoa